Case by Motorist, 78, Targets GM Air Bag


Automotive giant General Motors Corp. should pay a 78-year-old Ventura woman at least $500,000 because of a defective air bag in her car, an attorney argued in Ventura County Superior Court on Monday.

Los Angeles attorney John H. Wolf told a jury in his closing arguments that the nation’s largest car maker knew the risks of the air bag in Norma Pruitt’s vehicle but failed to warn her and other consumers.

Pruitt was hospitalized with a broken jaw in March 1995 after the air bag in her 1991 Chevrolet Beretta inflated during a low-speed accident in Oxnard.


She wants GM to cover the cost of her medical bills plus punitive damages, arguing that without the deployment of the air bag she would not have been injured in the crash.

Her case is only the second of its kind to reach a California courtroom.

“It was GM’s philosophy here not to tell,” Wolf argued in court Monday. He suggested that GM was concerned that if it admitted air bags had faults, it would hurt car sales.

“It was the almighty dollar,” Wolf said. “They felt that writing a letter would be junk mail.”

But San Jose attorney Vincent Galvin, who is representing GM, told the jury that the air bag in Pruitt’s car was not defective. He said the company should not be held responsible for her injuries.

“I don’t believe there is any basis for punitive damages,” he said. “Simply because Mrs. Pruitt was injured does not mean there was a fault with the product.”

In his closing argument, Galvin cited a federal report that credited air bags with saving lives. He said the report shows that the protective devices designed to cushion drivers in the event of an accident have reduced the number of traffic fatalities by 11% for people age 70.


“Air bags are helping,” he said.